Film Reviews, Films

Review: Encanto

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The Madrigal family have been blessed with supernatural gifts for a few generations. Each family member goes through a coming of age ceremony where they’re granted their gift by the omniscient power which seems to reside in a candle and also grants their house magical powers. The family member’s powers range from heightened hearing, super strength, healing, and…. nothing. Our protagonist Mirabel is the unlucky one, the one member of the Madrigal family since the gifts started being granted to not receive a gift.

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Mirabel is a sweetheart, unfazed for the most part about her lack of a gift. In fact, the opening number of Encanto is Mirabel literally singing the praises of her family members and how incredible they and their gifts are. Whilst Mirabel doesn’t treat any of her family members any differently, the same cannot be said the other way and Mirabel is somewhat ostracised from the family as a result.

After her cousin Antonio’s birthday where he is granted his gift, Mirabel realises the house is losing it’s magic and the family members are losing their gifts. Along with her estranged uncle Bruno, Mirabel decides she’s going to fix things and get the magic back.

Mirabel’s grandmother (who I’ll call Abuela, as they do in the film) is easily the worst of all the Madrigal family. I get that she’s the matriarch and the plot of Encanto mostly stems from her being awful, but I just felt like there was nothing redeeming about her at all. She’s controlling, bossy and far too concerned with appearances. You don’t really see anything of her to make you warm to her or think that she might be a good person early on in the film, and so it’s hard to really care about her character. The focus is very much on Abuela’s negative personality traits, which is to the detriment of the plot.

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Encanto is really visually spectacular. It’s wonderfully colourful and seems very authentic to it’s Columbian setting (from an outside perspective anyway). I believe the majority of the cast are Latinx also (please correct me if I’m wrong!), which helps the film feel very authentic. I loved how all of the members of the Madrigal family had a family resemblance but their character designs were so unique to them, and the characters themselves are really fun and it’s really cool to see them using their gifts.

Whilst Encanto is really visually appealing, that’s pretty much where the positives end for me.

The pacing of the film was just terrible, frankly. Far too much time was focussed on setting up the Madrigal home, explaining the history of the family and the gifts of each family member, that by the time the movie got into the crux of the plot there was barely any time to resolve matters so the ending feels incredibly rushed. The plot had a lot of potential but then just flatlined leaving the ending feeling anticlimactic and like things were resolved too easily given the lead up.

I also felt that for all her shortcomings, Abuela’s redemption was really disappointing. She got a second chance she perhaps didn’t deserve, and this feeling is largely in part due to her not really having much positive characterisation. By the time Encanto wraps up, she was very much still a villain in my mind and didn’t do much to endear me to her.

The songs are also largely forgettable, in my opinion. After I finished Encanto, I have thought approximately 0 times about any of the songs. I’m not sure I would even recognise one if I heard it. I know one is called ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ but when I think about it, I just get the tune of ‘Where You Are’ from Moana (understandably that’s more of a me problem than any actual similarities between the songs). Judging from the reaction of the internet, I’m definitely in a minority here, but for me this was one of Disney’s weakest soundtracks in a long time.

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I did like Encanto, there is a lot to like about it but it did leave me feeling quite underwhelmed and frankly, given the hype I have seen about it on social media, a bit confused! What am I missing? Encanto is one of Disney’s weaker films and not one I’d rush to rewatch any time soon.

6 stars

 

2022 challenges, Challenges

2022 Challenges: The Beginning

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Happy New Year to all my followers and readers! I hope 2021 wasn’t a total garbage fest for you all, it was okay for me but I feel glad to see the back of it! Here’s to a much better 2022!

Thinking about 2022, I want things to change. I felt like in 2021 I had my priorities totally wrong with the challenges and my focus was on things that were totally not what I wanted to really be doing. I got the platinum in a lot of games in 2021, sure, but did I play any good games? Not especially! I’ve found over the years I’ve done a few things like that, and I feel like I’d like to reprioritise things so I feel more fulfilled at the end of the year!

So, here are some slightly more targeted ~achievable~ challenges for 2022!

Platinum 15 games

I know I said in my intro that I was going to reprioritise, but I felt like it wouldn’t be Culture Shack without some focus on platinum trophies. I am going to come up with some criteria to the games I’m going to platinum so that I only get ones that actually pose a challenge and aren’t little 10 minute jobs I’ve bought just to ping the trophy. There might even be a shortlist of games I want to try to get the platinum in, who knows? This challenges leads on nicely to my next one, the first sub-challenge in Culture Shack history!

Get the platinum in Persona 4 Golden

I’ve been threatening it for years, but this year I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to get the platinum in Persona 4 Golden. I really tried in 2021, but I got caught up in other things. I first started playing the game in March 2014, so this is seven years in the making! Out of all of my challenges this is the one I’m most determined to do!

Watch 30 anime

For a self-confessed anime obsessive, I sure haven’t watched much anime lately. I really want to change this. This also comes with a sub-challenge of sorts – I want to watch one show per season. I went a bit crazy with seasonal shows the last couple of years and it was really overwhelming to keep up with, but at the same time it’s cool to be part of the hype. By paring it back to one show per season I think this will allow me to manage things a lot easier and still be part of the ‘conversation’.

Watch 30 films

I got so close to this target in 2021, and I think my mistake was only picking up steam in the latter half of the year so it felt like more of a chore. I can definitely do this!

Watch 30 anime films

Do you know how many unwatched anime blu-rays I have? A lot. Not in 2022. In 2022 I’m going to watch them… maybe not all, but most!

Read 18 books

I nailed the books challenge in 2021, and I really loved doing it. I was always an avid reader as a kid and the literature part of my degree really smashed that out of me. Now I’ve got back in my stride I reckon I can read 18 in 2022, that’s only a book and a half a month!

Clear physical Switch and Vita backlogs

My backlog has gotten out of hand, and I need to resolve that. I’m starting with my handhelds, and purely on the physical games I have so that I have some sort of structure. There’s 6 and 7 games per console so hopefully this won’t be too much of a task.

If you’re interested the games are as follows:

  • Our World Is Ended (Switch)
  • The World Ends With You (Switch)
  • Valthirian Arc (Switch)
  • Cafe Enchante (Switch)
  • Langrisser 1 and 2 (Switch)
  • Octopath Traveller (Switch)
  • Hakuoki Edo Blossoms (Vita)
  • Exist Archive (Vita)
  • 7’scarlet (Vita)
  • Tales of Hearts R (Vita)
  • Steins;Gate (Vita)
  • Pyschadelica of the Black Butterfly (Vita)

 

What do you think of my challenges for 2022? Have I bitten off more than I can chew yet again? If you have any suggestions for last minute considerations, let me know! As well as these challenges, I also have a lot of plans for the blog so I can hopefully be more active, and a lot of life goals I’m determined to achieve! Let’s make 2022 our year!

Game Reviews

Review: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

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Adol Christin is back, and this time he’s… in prison?! In the newest entry in the Ys series, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, the follow-up to the well-received Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Adol sets on a new adventure. After a series of unfortunate events, he begins investigating supernatural events in his new surroundings.

Read my full review at Nintenpedia.

Battling with the Monstrum

Game Reviews, Games

Review: Paradise Killer

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One of the most commonly seen criticisms of detective games is that they want to point the player towards one specific answer with a specific piece of evidence to corroborate. Not only is this frustrating, but also forces you to think the exact way the game wants you to think, leaving no other interpretation. Paradise Killer takes this criticism and throws it out. Created in 2020, the first person open-world detective game lets you gather as much—or as little—evidence as you like, and come to your own conclusions about them. The only person you have to convince is the Judge.

Read my full review at Nintenpedia.

Paradise Killer trial

2021 challenges, Anime

Anime August (Again!)

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We’re in August, who can believe it? Much like 2020, my anime progress for my challenges has been really slow progress, so I’m going to boost it again with Anime August. Plus, I really enjoyed having a dedicated month for something last year as it keeps me more focused.

Here’s what I’m going to be attempting to watch this August! I’ve tried to be more realistic than last year, when I was really overly optimistic.

Series:

  • Bartender
  • Fruits Basket The Final Season
  • Hakkenden
  • Kamisama Kiss
  • Kiss Him, Not Me
  • Moriarty the Patriot Part 2
  • My Love Story
  • Norn9
  • O Maidens in Your Savage Season
  • Photo Kano
  • Starmyu
  • Way of the Househusband
  • Welcome to the Ballroom
  • Zombieland Saga season 2 

Films:

  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
  • In This Corner of hte World
  • Lu Over the Wall
  • Napping Princess
  • Penguin Highway
  • The Red Turtle
  • The Cat Returns
  • Laputa
  • The Tatami Galaxy
  • 5 Centimetres Per Second

Wish me luck!

manga, Manga reviews

Review: She’s My Knight vol. 1

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Story and art: Saisou
Genre: Comedy, Romance, School
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Synopsis: Haruma Ichinose, 17, has been popular since he was born. So popular, in fact, that he figured no one could even come close…until he met Yuki Mogami. She’s tall, cool, collected, and totally makes him crazy. He may just be in love…but can he deal with falling for someone even more dashing than himself?
Publication date: 30th March 2021

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Ichinose is used to all the attention being on him; he’s been praised for his good looks his whole life. When he meets his classmate Yuki, he is instantly jealous due to the attention she gets, plus even worse, she’s taller than him!

The first volume of She’s My Knight does a good job of establishing the characters of Ichinose and Yuki and the dynamic between them. For characters who are both fawned over by their peers, that’s pretty much where their similarities end. Whilst Ichinose is fully aware of how attractive he is and of his charms, Yuki is totally oblivious, which only adds to Ichinose’s frustrations.

I’ve talked before about how I prefer manga with a continuous plot and story, over one where each chapter is a different vignette in itself. She’s My Knight is the latter, but actually, I think in this case it works. It’s not to say there’s no continuity throughout the manga, but each chapter is like a skit where Ichinose and Yuki are in a different situation, whether it’s a class play, or getting stuck together in a supply closet. Seeing the pair navigate these different situations is really amusing and makes for a lot of comedic moments.

The dynamic between Ichinose and Yuki is really fun, and commented on many times as Ichinose being the shoujou heroine and Yuki being the shoujou hero. It’s a fun, subverted story which has some really cute moments between its protagonists.

Whilst Ichinose and Yuki are entertaining and interesting characters, the same can’t be said for the supporting cast who are largely forgettable and add nothing to the stories. It’s a shame as the manga feels like it could really do with some more fleshed out characters to give it some depth and an extra layer, rather than the sole focus being on Ichinose and Yuki and their attractiveness.

She’s My Knight has a lot of promise and it will be interesting to see where it goes. I’d hope that there’ll be less uncertainty about the future of Ichinose and Yuki as a couple and more focus on them actually as an established couple, but we all know that ‘will they won’t they’ is a popular trope, so I won’t hold my breath!

3 stars

 

 

NetGalley requires users to rate on a star rating of 5, so I have adjusted my star ratings for any reviews for manga reviewed via NetGalley. Non-NetGalley reviews will remain out of 10.

Game Reviews, Games

Review: To The Moon

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Originally released on PC back in 2011, To The Moon was created by Kan Gao using the RPG Maker XP toolkit based on his own experiences with his grandfather’s life-threatening condition, and influenced by his own questions about end-of-life thoughts and whether a person can live with their regrets. Fast forward 9 years and one rebuild on Unity, and To The Moon was released on Switch in early 2020, ready to be enjoyed by a new generation.

Read my full review at Nintenpedia.

To The Moon

Anime

Why I’m Giving Up With Seasonal Shows

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At this stage of the year, I’d be watching the first episode of a bunch of shows ready to write up my Summer Anime Preview post. Whilst I’ve enjoyed doing the previews in the past, it leaves me with 10+ shows I have no hope of keeping up with or finishing.

I’ve found that generally, I’m able to keep up with two or three shows, and then the rest get abandoned, added to my ‘to watch’ list, where they’ll inevitably stay until I look at them and think, “Why on Earth did I ever want to watch that?”

Speaking of the ‘to watch’ list, it’s never ending. Relentlessly adding to it after I give up on 10+ seasonal shows certainly isn’t helping but there’s all the stuff on there that I genuinely did want to watch that I’m just never getting round to as I’m stuck in a cycle of never ending seasonal shows. I just feel like I’m watching stuff for the sake of it and I’m not enjoying it anymore.

Well, no more! I’m giving up with my previews. I’ll still be watching whatever shows I want to each season, but it certainly won’t be as many as I have attempted to do in the past and will be a much more manageable number. Hopefully this means I’ll have more time for other things – whether that’s watching other shows, drawing, writing. I’ll also feel a lot less stressed about being behind on everything always, so that can only be a good thing!

Anime, Anime Reviews

Review: Demon Slayer The Movie Mugen Train

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Let’s preface this whole review by just establishing my position on the Demon Slayer anime. It’s alright. That pretty much sums it up. I was pretty behind in watching Demon Slayer so by the time I got round to it there was so much buzz about it, and I had really high expectations which I don’t feel were met. I really don’t understand the hype around it – people seem to really, really love Demon Slayer, and I just kind of like it. I can totally appreciate it’s a good story, and some of the animation is really nice, but do I love it as much as other people seem to? No, I don’t. I think it’s quite average, I liked it well enough, but I definitely think there are other shows out there with similar premises doing it better.

I hear you ask, if I don’t like Demon Slayer that much, why did I bother to see it? Well, I like it enough to want to watch the second season, and the film is canon unlike the My Hero Academia movies, so I felt like I needed to watch it before season 2 started. I even took half a day off work for it!

So, with that in mind, how was Demon Slayer: Mugen Train? Let’s get into it.

Please be aware the following review may contain spoilers for the movie.

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As a reminder, season 1 of Demon Slayer ended with Tanjiro and co. receiving a message to join flame Hashira Rengoku on the Mugen Train to investigate a case where people were going missing, and this movie is then the outcome of that mission, hence the title, Mugen Train. 

Mugen Train starts immediately with action, there’s little to no rehashing story from the first season, so you really need to go into the movie with some memory of the plot from the anime. Newcomers to Demon Slayer may feel a little lost starting their journey with Mugen Train, though it’s not impossible. Mugen Train does work well as a standalone story, though obviously there’s a lot of context missing without the knowledge of the first season of Demon Slayer.

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Plot-wise Mugen Train is an exciting and interesting ride. The action never really stops throughout the whole movie, save for a few moments of respite.

As with Demon Slayer‘s debut series, Mugen Train is beautifully animated. There does seem to be some reliance on CGI for transition scenes and some background imagery, which I did find quite jarring. I’ve never liked the combination of CG backgrounds within an anime series, which I understand is a personal preference of mine, so others might not find it as much of an issue but for me it really took me out of the moment.

Some key moments lack emotional punch as it feels like the viewer doesn’t have enough time with the characters to develop any real bonds, so it’s almost a “Well, that happened.” and not much else. I feel some of these moments might land more for manga readers who have probably spent more time with certain characters, but as an anime only viewer, for me it felt a bit lacklustre.

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Mugen Train is a good continuation of the Demon Slayer story, and builds well on the world created in the first season. Whilst the story lacked emotional depth in places, there’s no doubting that the plot is a good one, and sets up the second series of the hit anime nicely.

7 stars

manga, Manga reviews

Review: Blue Lock vol. 1

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Story and art: Story by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Art by Yusuke Nomura
Genre: Shounen, Sport
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Synopsis: After a disastrous defeat at the 2018 World Cup, Japan’s team struggles to regroup. But what’s missing? An absolute Ace Striker, who can guide them to the win. The Japan Football Union is hell-bent on creating a striker who hungers for goals and thirsts for victory, and who can be the decisive instrument in turning around a losing match…and to do so, they’ve gathered 300 of Japan’s best and brightest youth players. Who will emerge to lead the team…and will they be able to out-muscle and out-ego everyone who stands in their way?
Publication date: 16th March 2021

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free e-copy of this manga in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Disappointed with the state of Japanese football, coach Jinpachi Ego decides to set up the Blue Lock programme. A prestigious programme, Blue Lock puts the top 300 youth strikers through their paces in an intense and hardcore training programme, aiming to separate the wheat from the chaff and ultimately end up crowning one player as the top striker in Japan.

Our protagonist is Yoichi Isagi, who is a well meaning striker on his high school football team. Yoichi costs his school a place in the national tournament due to his hesitation to take a shot at goal and his choice to pass to a teammate who then missed. Yoichi struggles to come to terms with the choice he made, and his whole mindset changes with regards to his feelings towards football. He’s always been very much a team player, but he starts to wonder if he should be more selfish when he’s playing and take the chances for himself.

Yoichi eventually gets recruited into Blue Lock, where playing alongside the best strikers in the world reinvigorates his love for football and makes him want to try as hard as he can to improve. Unfortunately, in comparison to his peers, Yoichi is really not all that. Ego’s vision for Blue Lock is very much to push the players as hard as he can, to breaking point. Everything in Blue Lock is based on rankings – what you eat, where you live, and how long you last in the programme. Yoichi finds himself in the bottom 11 ranked players fighting for his chance to be the best striker in Japan.

As a lifelong football fan, Blue Lock is really fun to read. There’s a lot of mentions to real life strikers which makes it really entertaining to compare the tactics and plot to real life occurrences. It’s also really interesting to see how the whole plot of the manga is to train the strikers in Blue Lock to only look out for themselves, and it’s basically the antithesis of any team game where the philosophy is very much based on playing as a team. The Blue Lock programme promotes the idea of ego and, what we’d call in the UK, glory hunting.

Blue Lock is a really interesting premise, and has a lot of potential. There are obviously a lot of potential rival characters for Yoichi to bounce off of, as well as a lot of self discovery ahead of him. Already in the few chapters of volume 1, Yoichi has come to realise that he’s perhaps not as weak as he believes himself to be.

It does feel like not a lot happens in this first volume of Blue Lock, but there’s a lot of set-up for onward plot and action. More and more characters are being introduced outside of the Blue Lock programme, and it’s interesting to see the perspective of outsiders on this very unyielding and unprecedented training programme as well as meeting the players who will undoubtedly make up the rest of the Japanese team with the Blue Lock graduates.

Whilst the first volume feels a little slow, Blue Lock shows a lot of promise, and one not to miss for fans of football.

3 stars

 

 

NetGalley requires users to rate on a star rating of 5, so I have adjusted my star ratings for any reviews for manga reviewed via NetGalley. Non-NetGalley reviews will remain out of 10.